Pulitzer-, Tony-winning playwright picked for UI project

Pulitzer-, Tony-winning playwright picked for UI project

URBANA — For Tony Award-winning director Daniel Sullivan, picking a playwright for the first Sullivan Project at the University of Illinois was a no-brainer.

He tapped David Auburn, winner of both the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for drama and Tony Award for best play for "Proof."

Sullivan, also a UI theater professor who holds an endowed Swanlund chair, had directed the New York premieres of "Proof" as well as another Auburn piece, "The Columnist," in 2012.

The director loves working with Auburn. He also thought his "Lost Lake," a two-character piece still in development, would be an easy and good one to kick off the new project that bears his name.

Created and produced by the UI Department of Theatre, the Sullivan Project gives a play in-progress, written by a leading American playwright, a full production, with Equity actors and crew, at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.

With Sullivan directing, of course.

"It's a blessing," Auburn said Thursday at Krannert Center. "It's a real luxury to get to work on a play with Dan and great actors in this kind of facility, in a town where there will be good audiences. It's not an opportunity you have very often, so I love it."

The rehearsals of "Lost Lake" started Wednesday; they will be open to UI theater students to observe. The show will be presented seven times, starting Feb. 5.

Auburn, who lives in New York, will be at most of the rehearsals and plans to attend each performance.

Through the process, he will revise the one-act, two-character play to make it "as solid as possible."

"I think I already have some changes in mind," he said. "I think it will continue to change as we rehearse it."

And revisions might even happen during performance week, Sullivan said.

"I don't like to think of myself as audience-centric," he said, "but you do know when the audience is breathing with the play. There's something that happens with the heart and the soul of an audience as it engages in the story."

The story in "Lost Lake," to be presented without intermission:

Veronica, who lives in New York, finds herself at a turning point in life. She decides to give her children a respite from urban life by spending time with them in a rural, ramshackle cabin.

When she leases the home, she meets Hogan, the property owner who faces his own challenges, which affect Veronica's chances for a time away from it all.

To play Veronica, Sullivan chose actress Opal Alladin, who has acted on stage and screen, including in the films "United 93" and "Brown Sugar." Jake Weber, a British film, theater and TV actor, plays Hogan. He's appeared in such movies as "Dawn of the Dead" and "Meet Joe Black," and played the husband of medium/psychic Allison DuBois, played by Patricia Arquette, in the TV drama series "Medium."

Sullivan said the Chicago-born Auburn has a great ear for dialogue and takes on different and singular projects.

"He's not one who goes over the same ground," the director said. "Every play of his is different in subject matter and style."

"The Columnist," for example, is about the influential Joseph Alsop, a syndicated newspaper columnist who died in 1989. The family drama "Proof" tells the story of a young woman who has spent years caring for her father, a brilliant mathematician with mental illness.

"Proof" was just Auburn's second full-length play. Winning both the Pulitzer and Tony for it was "thrilling and scary a bit" for the now 44-year-old playwright.

"It was a charmed experience," he said. "I think I was smart enough to realize at the time that it was unusual and not likely to be repeated."

If you go

What: Illinois Theatre, the producing arm of the University of Illinois Department of Theatre, presents The Sullivan Project — "Lost Lake" by David Auburn, directed by Daniel Sullivan.

When: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 5, 6 and 7; 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 8 and 9.

Where: Studio Theatre, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, 500 S. Goodwin Ave., U.

Tickets: $18 for adults, $17 for senior citizens, $15 for non-UI students and $10 for UI students and youths.

Information: 333-6280 or http://www.krannertcenter.com.

Of note: The Sullivan Project is funded by the Swanlund Endowment, the Anda Fund, the Dasha Epstein New Production Fund, and Friends of Illinois Theatre.